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The Hon Darren Chester MP
Minister for Veterans' Affairs
Minister for Defence Personnel
Minister Assisting the Prime Minister for the Centenary of ANZAC

MEDIA RELEASE

12 December 2018

Thailand Hellfire Pass Centre tells important story

The refurbished Hellfire Pass Interpretive Centre, originally built and funded by the Australian Government in collaboration with the Government of the Kingdom of Thailand, and now with important improvement works completed, was re-opened in Kanchanaburi in Thailand today.

Minister for Veterans' Affairs Darren Chester said the Hellfire Pass Interpretive Centre and Memorial Walking Trail are dedicated to Australians and Allied Prisoners of War, and Asian labourers (Romusha), who suffered and died at Hellfire Pass and elsewhere in the Asia Pacific region during the Second World War.

"Prisoners were forced to carve through solid limestone and quartz for up to 18 hours a day for some 12 weeks at Hellfire Pass, with the pass receiving its name from the oil-fired bamboo torches that lit the cutting up like 'the fires of hell'," Mr Chester said.

"The centre, which was opened in 1998, is located directly above Hellfire Pass and presents the history of the Burma-Thailand Railway in a balanced way, focusing on the stories of all those involved in building the railway, and conveying the hardships and suffering endured by so many who were forced to work in extremely harsh conditions.

"Australia had already been at war for two years when the Pacific War began. From December 1941, the Japanese military swept across Asia and the Western Pacific, again, shocking the world with the speed of its advance.

"One by one, nations fell to Japanese occupation. Thousands of men and women were taken prisoner and endured years of captivity. Some 22,000 Australians became prisoners of the Japanese. The majority were captured in the Fall of Singapore.

"Earlier this year I had the privilege of meeting with and hearing the stories of four of those brave men who worked on the Burma-Thailand Railway as Prisoners of War. Not only is this site of great importance to them, but as demonstrated by the some 160,000 visitors every year, it holds special significance for many Australian and other visitors to this historic site."

The refurbishment work was managed by Australia's Office of Australian War Graves (OAWG), which has developed an audio guide tour that many visitors and tour groups listen to as they walk along the path of the railway to the memorial and beyond. The audio guide, available in English, Dutch and Thai, provides a history of Hellfire Pass and includes first-hand comments from ex Prisoners of War.

The OAWG, on behalf of the Australian Government, maintains official Australian military memorials in overseas locations including Thailand. These memorials recognise and educate Australians and other visitors to these locations about Australia's military history and heritage.

Further information is available on the DVA website. The OAWG can be contacted via email wargraves@dva.gov.au or on 1800 555 254.

ENDS

MEDIA CONTACTS:

Whil Prendergast: 02 6277 7820
DVA Media: 02 6289 6466
Office of the Hon. Darren Chester, Canberra ACT

Open Arms — Veterans and Families Counselling provides support for current and ex-serving ADF personnel and their families. Free and confidential help is available 24/7. Phone 1800 011 046 (international: +61 8 8241 4546) or visit www.OpenArms.gov.au